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John Hughes: Patron Saint of Teen Flicks August 7, 2009

I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.”Ferris

Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

As a teen, when most adults were the enemy and just didn’t get it, John Hughes was the grown-up we could trust. Maybe it’s because he listened to his young cast about soundtrack, wardrobe and even storyline (perhaps he even listened a little too much regarding that last one. I still think Andie should have ended up with Duckie in Pretty In Pink. And I thought Allison Reynolds (Alley Sheedy) looked better before she was made up all prissy) Or maybe because he could recall vividly all that it meant to be in this strange, weird stage of transition. Whatever the reason, John Hughes’ movies were a graduation from childhood and Disney-esque films to young adulthood and movies that featured problems we faced and understood; like fitting in (or not), how to break out of that box once you have fitted in (or not), weighing up the pros and cons of conformity, and love and sex. Especially love and sex. Instead of dismissing feelings that we dealt with at that time for anything apart from Puppy Love or hormone fueled indulgence - Hughes made the courtship machinations between his couples as complex, exciting, intense and, most importantly, legitimate as any so-called more sophisticated fare. John Hughes took us seriously and these were OUR movies. When The Godfather was still that bloke who’d give you a fiver when he came to visit, we knew what The Breakfast Club was alllllll about.

lockersHe also introduced the exotic idea of lockers to the less fortunate of my generation. As convent school inmates in Ireland, my friends and I weren’t all that interested in the fashions that we knew we could never wear to school. Or the ‘Prom’ – we had a ‘Debs’ and anyway, we were better off there as most people are of legal age to drink by the time the Debs rolls around. And our classes (or grades, depending on your location) were too small to have real cliques. No, it was the lockers. We claimed it was because we were fed up of dragging 40 pounds of books behind us but there was something deeper about the draw. It was your own space in a building where you had little to no control. You could put up pictures and other personal items and make it your own. An extremely attractive notion when you’ve got to wear a uniform.  And, we innately understood the underlying excitement and seething sexual-political potential that these simple devices held. There was utter fascination with this apparent Mating Ritual that occured around lockers in these cool American High Schools. What happened at your locker could make or break you and there never seemed to be any teachers around. During the tiny breaks from classes before the bell rang, these kids hooked up and broke up. Romance and heart-break had to fit in between English and History. Relationships were solidified and burned in these few moments, enemies became friends and friends turned into enemies, hopes and dreams came true or were crushed. These small instances became whole worlds usually climaxing in that most sacred portion of the school day - lunch. We wanted these experiences and adventures, so we wanted the lockers. Alas, we did not get. Bloody nuns. Why give us boys but no lockers? Maybe, like most things, it was better in the movies. So we lived vicariously through Molly Ringwald.

16 candles

When my 30th birthday passed certain close family members by (no names but you know who you are) I was right in Samantha ‘Sixteen Candles’ territory. It took me until I’d reached that ripe age to fully understand just exactly how Sam felt. Wow, does it hurt. It’s funny how much we DON’T change. Yes, people mature, they marry and have children, swap a principal for a boss and classmates for colleagues but is anything really all that much different? We still want to feel popular and special and when we are forgotten, it totally sucks and our feelings are put through the ringer. Sometimes I wish it was still acceptable to go to your room, slam the door and sulk. Not that I don’t still do that, it’s just not something that is normally acceptable for a 34 year old woman to do. But, like Samantha, things wound up OK, better than I could have hoped. And it’s still fun to piss off authority figures. Like, when the Grumpy Old Cow from across the way recently came to complain about the noise that a few friends and I were making, we asked her if it was a ‘ruckus’ and then we all demonstrated the ‘ruckus’. We could barely keep it together and when she left, very annoyed, we broke down, wetting ourselves laughing. Such joy! Partly because it was genuinely funny but more because it meant that we weren’t so far removed from our younger selves, because the Grumpy Old Cow didn’t get the reference. It was a short-hand that we all identified with, even though we all came from different backgrounds and cultures. Nobody had to even say the name of the film, we knew at once. After all – Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.

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What girl didn’t try to apply lipstick from her bra? What boy didn’t try John Bender’s spit-release-and-catch? Myself, I was somewhere between Allison Reynolds and Ferris Bueller (with a little Bender thrown in) but Hughes’ movies helped me realize that I was, all at once –  a brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess and a criminal.  As well as a ring-leader, a willing follower, a trouble-maker, a peace-keeper, a cynic and a romantic. Danke schoen, John.

CORRECTION Obit John Hughes

So, in ending this piece, I’d like to say: Ladies and gentlemen, you are such a wonderful crowd, we’d like to play a little tune for you. It’s one of my personal favorites and I’d like to dedicate it to a young man who (probably) doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today – John Hughes, this one’s for you.

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Matthew August 8th, 2009

Great article though really points out the huge void in today’s teen cinema. And teen music for me too. I think John Hughes films played a big part in the marketablility of groups like Oingo Boingo or even Twisted Sister. There’s just so few songs these days about detention or flunking out because of the jerk-head principal and I wonder if there isn’t a connection.

Currently I couldn’t even name a popular teen dramedy without vampires or wizards which don’t get me wrong are pretty cool for kids, but the closest I’ve seen others come would be a Can’t Hardly Wait or Superbad which both do have a good share of angst and sentiment though tend to go more for the bolder yet cheaper laughs.

Hughes masterfully captured both sides of the teen experience which is rarely done even in adult cinema. Pretty in Pink is as much about the differences of Ducky and Blaine as it centers on Andy. As much as it Ferris’ movie we’ll never forget his frustrated and determined sister – Some Kind of Wonderful captures both sides and the Breakfast Club is one of the best ensemble movies ever made in any genre.

I hope these films continue to influence young filmmakers. They are easy to dismiss because of their adolescent themes when producers are so focused on superheroes and remakes but even in my 30s now I have hope that I’ll see great filmmaking and writing about the next generation’s teen experience in the future. And nobody did it right before you John-o.

On a final note, I have to admit that it’s not Christmas if I haven’t watched Home Alone. Thanks for the “ruckus” John and keep telling your great stories from the video store!


Erin August 8th, 2009

Wow, that’s a really insightful observation regarding the music and I’m slightly jealous that you copped to it and put it so well. ;-) There’s no ‘Smoking in the Boy’s Room’ or ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ type songs around much anymore. No ‘Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ or ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ or even ‘Summer Time Blues’. There needs to be more ‘The Principal/Teacher/My Parents Suck’ songs. I still love smashing around the living room to a good Teen Rebel Song. Maybe it’s cos I’m Irish or because I’m still a snot-nosed punk kid inside.

Sasha August 23rd, 2009

I heard she DID end up with Ducky in the original script- I take comfort in this. And yes, puke on prissy Ally Sheedy. But for these two silly moves, John Hughes was truly a saint, and there hasn’t been another like him. Sigh.

sandra407 September 9th, 2009

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

[...] Yet unlike the majority of my peers, I was never much of a John Hughes fan.  I only own one of his films in my extensive movie collection.  However, despite this fact, I am very aware on the importance that Hughes’ films had on my generation, and I do consider The Breakfast Club to be one of the most relevant films of the 1980s.  When I heard about his death, I felt that another part of our childhood had died along with him.  After the death of Michael Jackson earlier this summer, John Hughes’ death is a double blow to the world of 80’s pop culture.  Now I could try to eek out a tribute to John Hughes as someone who had an appreciation for his role in 80’s pop culture, but due to my lack of love for his films I know I am not the one who is suited for the job.  However, earlier today I read a beautiful tribute to John Hughes by my good friend and associate Erin Feeney, the head writer at 21Pimilico, who brilliantly summed up why John Hughes films and characters touched the souls of an entire generation.  I encourage all of you to take a day off or skip detention and read Erin’s tribute to John Hughes at [...]

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